The BFI’s remastered Jacques Tati series continues with the double release of Jour de Fête (1949) and Mon Oncle (1958) – two of the beloved French star’s most renowned films. Packaged with in-depth booklets, essays and brand new artwork to tie-in with the crystal clear restorations, these films well represent the immeasurable talent Tati attempted to share with his audience. Jour de Fête, Tati’s directorial debut, centres on a delusional postman, François (Tati), who works for the French postal service. Ridiculed by his fellow townspeople, François is constantly subjected to taunts and antics at the cost of his own pride.
However, when he’s persuaded to watch a film detailing the work of the US postal service, he takes things far too seriously, haphazardly attempting to introduce some of their more advanced methods into his own attitude towards postal delivery. Featuring a cavalcade of colourful characters, lively merriment and a wit and charm like no other, Jour de Fête marks a spectacularly well fashioned introduction to Tati’s old-fashioned and playful sense of humour. His François is silly, yet determined and relentless in his efforts to make a difference to his small town, no matter how small. Yet silliness aside though, the film also cleverly captures the social values of the times, when people of all backgrounds looked up to America as a nation of innovation.
Mon Oncle, on the other hand, while perhaps not as well polished as Jour de Fête, still contains enough pleasure to entertain its re-mastering. The film centres on Monsieur Hulot, a famous character created and embodied by Tati in a selection of his films, as he visits his family in Paris. However, no matter how hard his nephew tries to make him feel at home, he struggles to settle into an environment so fuelled by technology. The narrative concerns Hulot’s conflicting inner self, as he’s both pushed and pulled in all manner of directions by his sister, brother-in-law and nephew.
Hulot’s nephew, Gerard, adores his uncle’s simplistic and antiquated nature, while his sister and brother-in-law constantly try to immerse him in the Paris lifestyle – a way of life that seems completely foreign and alienating to him. It’s a strong message, made even stronger by the fact it’s done in complete silence. Tati’s wholehearted rejection of unnecessary dialogue shifts emphasis onto the man himself, and the brilliant performance he delivers. It’s a shame, then, that the messages themselves are somewhat outdated and perfunctory, and highlights how hard it is for a comedy performer to be consistently funny throughout the whole of what’s basically a one man show.
Whether or not Jour de Fête and/or Mon Oncle themselves are as rich in wit and substance as they could have been is a minor quandary – what persists is the tangible sense that Tati was an extraordinary talent, performer and cutting edge voice of his time. The fact he often packs so much into his films is perhaps one of his biggest downfalls, but there’s no shadow of a doubt that this BFI series is deserving in recognition solely for bringing Tati to the hearts and minds of people who may not be as familiar with his work as others.